If there’s one thing the Washington Capitals probably don’t need right now, it’s a road trip to face one of the NHL’s hottest teams. Schedule, thy name is cruelty, because the Caps are playing the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Consol Energy Center tonight.
Unless you’ve already repressed the memory, you may recall that the Penguins thrashed the Caps 6-3 in Washington last Sunday, despite John Carlson playing pinball wizard to embarrass a wandering Tomas Vokoun. Chris Kunitz ended up with four goals for Pittsburgh after the people who decide such things changed their minds about three times on the Pens’ first goal.
To add some perspective, the Capitals haven’t scored four goals as a team in any game this season. Any chance of pulling off a road upset probably involves changing that fact somehow. On the plus side, Marcus Johansson finally broke through with his first goal of the season on Tuesday, the power play went 2-for-3 in that same game, and Mike Ribeiro continues to be worth every penny Washington is paying him. Now if only that other guy would get going. What’s his name? Oh yeah, Alex Ovechkin (zero even strength goals in 2013).
With neither Caps goalie really playing too well, Adam Oates is going with Michal Neuvirth to try to slow down the league’s second-highest scoring team. Two things suggest this might be a good idea: one is that Braden Holtby was in net when the Pens struck six times last week, and the other is that Neuvirth has two shutouts in four career starts against Pittsburgh. Neuvirth still won’t have the benefit of John Erskine playing in front of him, as the defenseman will be serving the final game of his suspension for elbowing Wayne Simmonds.
The Penguins may also switch things up and start Marc-Andre Fleury instead of Vokoun. Though the latter has played better overall this year, the former is coming off two consecutive solid starts and seems to be finding his form. Sidney Crosby (five-game points streak) had an injury scare Tuesday night against the New York Islanders but appears to be fine for tonight.
A three-game road trip is lurking for the Capitals next week that could deal the a blow from which they can’t recover. If they want to have the talk at the end of February focused on making the playoffs instead of who might be departing at the trade deadline, they need to find a way to get at least one point tonight. It’s not going to be easy, but that’s the way it is right now.
Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins
Start time: 7 pm EST
TV: NHL Network